Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Everyone, at some time, is a continent of one

Falling Off the MapFalling Off the Map by Pico Ayer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having taken a growingly serious interest in travel writing, and having wanted to read Pico Iyer ever since I came across this quote, "Kindness is water, religion is like tea. You can survive without tea, you can't survive without water," I decided to pick up Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World two days ago.

In six eloquently crafted essays, Iyer introduces us to six different places, each fascinating and lonely in its own right.

What makes a lonely place? According to Iyer, lonely places
  • have no seat at our international dinner tables
  • all are marching to the beat of a different satellite drummer
  • develop tics and manias and heresies. They pine, they brood, they molder
  • are generally sure that their time is about to come
  • are often poor places, because poverty breeds wonkiness and a greater ability to visualize than to realize dreams  
  • are often small countries, because smallness gets forgotten
and, most poignantly of all:
  • attract lonely people
Unsurprisingly, the enigmatic and remote North Korea tops the list of lonely places in this collection. Argentina is there, too, a place with people "living in a dream" despite the economic collapse happening around them. It is followed by Cuba, which carries a "sense of wistfulness, of a life arrested in midbreath." Iyer captures the "seduction" of Cuba's loneliness, describing how "the whole island has the ramshackle glamour of an abandoned stage set." Then, there is Iceland, which has a mystic quality to it; we, like Iyer, are swept away by its "certain kind of magic" as well as struck by its darkness.  Bhutan is the "hidden kingdom" that, like North Korea, shuts itself from the outside world (both are vastly different, however). Vietnam is beautifully described as "a pretty girl with her face pressed up against the window of the dance hall, waiting to be invited in." Paraguay is the "orphaned land," and the title of the essay - "Up for sale, or adoption" - is sadly fitting. Finally, we have Australia, which perhaps does not strike the modern reader as that much of a "lonely place" yet nonetheless comes across as "a country that feels as if it has fallen off the planet" in Iyer's essay.

In all essays, Iyer shows how the busiest of regions have a lonely face to them (e.g. the touristy Saigon side of Vietnam vs the abandoned Hanoi). He sews together every place's people, history and geography to present a portrait of loneliness to which local residents may not even be attuned. Iyer also alludes to other writers, such as Márquez and Lawrence (this is something I have noticed travel writers often do).

The reason why it is so lovely to read Iyer is because he comes across as a bold explorer, deciding "to try one last time to walk across the deserted street" in Pyongyang, and daring to accept a stranger's offer to board a new (and risky) plane to Bhutan. He has a keen eye for details, missing nothing about the different dimensions of a city. And he is as much of an intensely involved observer as he is an outsider, a unwelcome guest at certain Korean restaurants in Paraguay. We are often reminded of the fact that lonely places attract lonely people.

Yet beyond the loneliness of deserted landscapes and oblivious dreamers, there are also evolving cultures and reinvented people, foreign influences and more travelers. This book was published in 1993, and not all the places it describes are so lonely anymore. Yet as Iyer reminds us, "there will never be a shortage of Lonely Places, any more than there will ever be of lonely people."

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家變家變 by 王文興
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

沒想到我有一天竟然會在這個博客上用中文寫一篇書評。其實, “書評” 這個詞不太適當。我以下寫的內容應該只能算是十分隨意、非正式的 “讀後感”。想來想去,想要念英文 文學的我以後不會有很多讀寫中文的機會。為了避免我的中文水平下降到太離譜的地步,我還是偶爾讀一本中文書,再將短短的 “讀後感” 登上這裏吧。。。


幾個禮拜前,電視播放了一部關於王文興的紀錄片。主持人解釋了王文興的寫作風格特色,也談到他的代表作,《家變》,所探討到的父子關係 主題。就這樣,《家變》引起了我的興趣,而我決定把它讀完。

在《家變》的第一、二頁以內,故事中的父親就從家門往外走去而消失了。在這個時候,我覺得《家變》的讀者 有百分之90個就會馬上 認為整本書會圍繞著主人公,范曄,尋父親的過程。(另外的百分之10 先見之明的能力比較強)。

可是,《家變》的情節並沒有根據一個線性的劇情。作者通過157 個小段來敘述主人公的過去,以各種小細節反映出他成長的過程。這就是故事的“暗線”。反過來而言,王文興藉由 A 至 O 的小段來敘述故事情節中的“明線”,也就是范曄找父親的發展。

暗線 (許多段路都這麼短)

21     晨霧還迷濛著仄巷,隔著水汗淋滴的玻璃窗板,他聽得到巷口賣豆腐的女人吟喚著唱聲:“豆腐哎——豆腐唉——”他每一天清早都聽到這個唱聲。  
22    狂風呼出嗥號的聲調,窗架子自己作響不歇,一片掌大的紅葉從窗前飛過。  
明線 (每一段,長短,都是由刊登於報紙的廣告開始)

G  父親:您離家已經半個月了,請快快回來吧!  子曄

M  父親您離家已近三月,請歸來,一切問題當照尊意解決。   子曄


王文興就是從這些家庭衝突出發來強烈抨擊 當時傳統、封建家庭 令人窒息的 制度。他批評的其實也就是 家庭 這整個機構:

“在今天台灣的社會上家庭中其所以互相無法藹然相處的原因以我的觀察所得來看至少抓得出兩個原因是主要最要的原因而來:第一——這兒的房子太小,住在一家子的人相相互互妨礙,沒有辦法達到眼不見為淨的田步。往日的仕大夫一般人他們蠻可以精求'孝道',他們的房屋屋敞廳恢,他們具那樣的條件講求孝道當然容易,讓他們來住住像我們這樣隘小狹湫的日本房子住住看——第二:今天一大部份家庭裡面的問題出在我們這些當兒晚的人沒有辦法去嚴格懲處我們自個兒的父母,不能夠去很打他們一陣。假如是家裡面的小孩子們當他們觸犯了誤禍的時候,你可以一任自由地去呵責他們,笞打他們,如斯一來你的心裡面的氣就也跟著消了,問題因此也就隨而化為無形了。可是對於為父為母親了的人卻一點無有可能這麼的個去做去。以是心底里淤積的憤恨愈積愈增! ”



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